What’s more real than a man flirting and sleeping around with 12 women begging to be chosen by him or singers being vigorously filtered through auditions to win singing competitions? Everything. Everything is more real.
Reality TV is only popular because it is not reality. True reality TV would be following a middle-aged man around as he shaves, pours his coffee, eats his breakfast, and goes to work. Or, perhaps, following a young girl around as she gets ready for school, boards the bus, takes her chemistry quiz, and goes to soccer practice. This sort of reality TV wouldn’t last very long. Why? Because reality is boring. At least, it feels like it’s boring.
Reality TV is made not real because of the selectivity the producers have in its creation. It can still be fun—I was an American Idol and Survivor fan for years, but when you realize that the drama and the conflict and all of that is set up and not real, the genre loses a bit of its luster.
The other day, I was thinking…
I work in social media for a living…right now, at least. I’ve always been interested in social media, but I definitely never thought I’d make a living off of it. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, and all the rest can be annoying at times. Keeping up with the changes and the latest trends is exhausting. But, nonetheless, social media has become necessary for marketing, long-distance interaction, and much of our regular social lives, whether we like it or not.
But, social media, in all of its usefulness, has a serious problem: it’s real life reality TV.
What do I mean?
Like a reality TV show producer, posting content to social media lets us decide what our “reality” looks like to those who see us.
I call this “selective sharing.” Social media allows us to selectively share who we are so that our flaws disappear or seem less problematic than they really are. For marketers like me, social media is a helpful tool to curate content to sell stuff. For many of us in our persona lives, social media lets us curate our image to sell ourselves.
Throughout the history of man, we have had the ability to look more important, secure, rich, happy, or attractive than we really are. But maintaining a façade of happiness in face-to-face interactions is much more difficult than maintaining that same façade online.
For instance, my wife is brilliant at noticing when I’m upset. I can try to hide it all I want, but if I’m mad, disappointed, annoyed, or compelled by just about any other sort of negative feeling, she identifies it immediately over the dinner table or in the car on the way home from work.
But, my anger doesn’t ooze out of my Instagram pictures and my sadness doesn’t proliferate my Twitter timeline. For all my followers know, I’m a pretty snarky, content guy, who doesn’t get bent out of shape about a lot of stuff. This is true of me, and I’m not even one to try to paint a false image of myself online. I just subconsciously filter out the raw sinfulness that is tough to miss in my daily life.
Imagine how effective we can be at creating false images of ourselves if we really try.
Social media is a helpful form of communication, but it leads us to misrepresent ourselves.
Don’t try to fool people on social media about how awesome your life is or how special you are.
If we want social media to accurately reflect who we are and what we’re about, we have to try to be more intentional about sharing our sorrows as much as our victories.
Just this week I saw a great story about a woman in the United Kingdom who has been sharing social media posts of herself while she has panic attacks. She does it in hopes of lifting the stigma. Here’s a bit from a story on it:
A British woman’s post about what it’s like to experience a panic attack has been shared thousands of times.
Amber Smith from Rugby in Warwickshire shared two photos on Facebook, one of herself dressed up, with her makeup on, the second of her immediately after a panic attack.
Posting the two pics to tackle the stigma associated with mental health, she says that while she physically looks “fine” she is “battling a monster” inside her head every day.
We need more of that. The social media depiction of our lives usually doesn’t depict our actual lives, and it makes us all think we live more glamorous lives than we actually do.
For a generation of young people that claim to value “authenticity” we’re masterful at hypocrisy.